Vietnam's cross-border timber crackdown and the quest for state legitimacy

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    The cross-border timber trade between Cambodia and Vietnam provides a window into frictions between different tiers of government in Vietnam. Divergent central and provincial government interests in the cross-border timber trade show that state legitimacy is multi-dimensional and can stem from conflicting sources. The central government's recent devolution of regulatory powers over the cross-border timber trade has enabled provincial authorities to increase illicit timber flows from Cambodia to finance local economic agendas. Timber imports have become a key revenue source for provincial budgets. They are also critical to the burgeoning Vietnamese wood processing sector and to the livelihoods of thousands of wood processing households in the Red River Delta region. Meanwhile, the central government has made a commitment to its international trading partners to stem the trade of illegally harvested timber from countries such as Cambodia. The corruption associated with these timber imports, often involving high-level provincial officials, has added to public concern about corruption in Vietnam and further eroded the central government's political legitimacy. Thus, the timber trade sustains the legitimacy of provincial actors by supporting economic development and local livelihoods, but undermines both the international reputation and domestic legitimacy of the central government. The central government has responded by 'performing' corruption crackdowns on provincial officials in an effort to restore its political legitimacy. Through a high-profile case of Cambodian timber imports, we reveal the conflicting sources of legitimacy that the state must continually navigate across provincial and central axes, and between domestic and international spheres, which play out through state practices and representations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)-
    JournalPolitical Geography
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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